The Stacks

Hanging Chads

by Jonathan W. Dennis

This is Tallahassee, a city where every government building is shaped according to its function. The Department of Education building is shaped like a Faber eraser. From a helicopter, the prison looks like a pair of handcuffs. The capital building is a tower with two small domed buildings on either side of it. You get the picture.

It is December 2000 in Tallahassee, Florida and a group of black-robed people are about to determine the leader of the United States of America, but not the group of black-robed people that you think.

Now

It was a simple announcement but, aware that the eyes of the world would be on the press conference, Secretary of State Katherine Harris chose to make it herself. Even with all the cameras present, she had gone light on the make-up. When she used too much, it made her feel like a tart. A little glare be damned. It was the message that was important, brief as it was.

'After a full and accurate count of the ballots,' she said, 'It has been determined that Vice-President Al Gore has won by 1025 votes and will be assigned 25 of Florida's electors.'

Then

Cousins Neville and Marshall cast a hysteresis ward on the armed guards outside the building and slipped inside. Should anyone wish to view the videotapes from the security cameras later (and who would? There would be no reason to think that anything had happened.), all they would see would be the inky shimmer of people who no longer quite exist. They reached the safe with no further native encounters. Cousin Neville pulled out the combination, freshly ripped from the contractor's notebook 12 years earlier, and deftly spun the dial.

The foot-thick steel door swung open smoothly, soundlessly. The ballot boxes were piled against the near walls, hundreds of individually locked metal boxes stacked from floor to ceiling. There wasn't enough room for them in the rest of the repository. Besides, they would soon be moved to a more permanent home now that the legal proceedings were over. Cousin Marshall's eyes scanned the stacks from behind his mask. He turned to the elder Cousin for guidance.

'Which ones should we take?'

'It doesn't matter,' said Cousin Neville. 'Just grab a couple and we'll leave.'

Cousin Marshall hauled a couple of boxes from the top of one of the shorter stacks and shoved them into a transcendental carryall. He exited the room, leaving Cousin Neville to seal the door behind them.

Now

It was a simple announcement but, aware that the eyes of the world would be on the press conference, Secretary of State Katherine Harris chose to make it herself. With all the cameras present, she had decided to use a little more make-up than usual. It made her feel less vulnerable, but it wasn't that important. It was the message that was important, brief as it was.

'After a full and accurate count of the ballots,' she said, 'It has been determined that Governor George W. Bush has won by 537 votes and will be assigned all 25 of Florida's electors.

Then

Cousins Neville and Marshall took a moment to look at the guards trapped in a chronic hysteresis outside the building and slipped inside. They reached the safe with no further native encounters. Through the open door of the safe, they could see their earlier selves contemplating the ballot boxes. Just as the previous iteration of Cousin Neville noticed them, they pulled out their DeMat pistols and disintegrated their earlier selves for good measure.

Cousin Marshall pulled two ballot boxes from the transcendental carryall and placed them on two of the shorter stacks, only a few feet away from where they already sat. He offered a quick muttered thanks to the Grandfather and exited the room, leaving Cousin Neville to seal the door behind them.

Now

It was a simple announcement but, aware that the eyes of the world would be on the press conference, Secretary of State Katherine Harris chose to make it herself. With all the cameras present, she had decided to use a little more make-up than usual. It made her feel less vulnerable.

'After a full and accurate count of the ballots,' she said, 'It has been determined that Vice-President Al Gore has won by 3124 votes and will be assigned all 25 of Florida's electors.'

Then

Cousins Neville and Marshall arrived a half an hour earlier than usual. They cast a hysteresis ward on the armed guards outside the building, confounding their first iterations when they arrived, and slipped inside. Cousin Neville dialed the now memorized combination and smoothly opened the door for his companion. This time he closed the door behind them.

Both Cousins pulled out their transcendental carryalls and left them open on the floor by the stacks of ballot boxes, ready for the long night of work ahead of them. When they started removing the ballot boxes from the stacks, they placed them carefully in the first carryall. Before long though, they were tossing them into the black maw of the bag, cursing when they missed and the tossed box clattered loudly off the edge and across the floor.

When all the boxes were safely stowed away, Cousin Neville sealed the carryall and they started on the more difficult task of removing the previously prepared boxes from the second carryall. They paused only twice in their duties, both times to kill their earlier incarnations as they entered the vault.

Once finished, they offered up a brief invocation to the Grandfather and sealed the room behind them.

Now

It wasn't a simple announcement, so Secretary of State Katherine Harris chose to make it herself. With all the cameras present, she had decided to layer on the make-up. She hoped it would serve as some kind of shield between the cameras and her confusion.

'After a full and accurate count of the ballots,' she said, 'It has been determined that Ralph Nader has won by 101,112 votes and will be assigned all 25 of Florida's electors.'

Then

Cousins Neville and Marshall arrived, this time supervised by Brother Carl and Sister Nancy. The elder family members cast a hysteresis ward on the guards outside the building and the group slipped inside. Cousin Neville dialed the now memorized combination and smoothly opened the door for the others.

Inside the vault, the Cousins pulled out their transcendental carryalls and left them open on the floor by the stacks of ballot boxes. They repeated their previous operation, replacing the ballot boxes with ones they had previously prepared. The Brother and Sister watched the operation from their vantage point by the door. Occasionally, they urged the Cousins to work faster, reminding them of their lowly place in the Faction, of the need to improve their worth. Other times, they used the unravellers hidden on their persons to reduce the previous iterations of the Cousins to raw biodata for sacrifice later.

Once finished, the group offered up a brief service to the Grandfather and sealed the room behind them.

Now

It wasn't a simple announcement, so Secretary of State Katherine Harris chose to make it herself. With all the cameras present, she had decided to layer on the make-up.

'After a full and accurate count of the ballots,' she said, 'It has been determined that the Florida vote for President of the United States of America is split evenly between all 12 candidates running for the office.'

Then

Inside the vault, the Cousins pulled their transcendental carryalls and unloaded the equipment they would need for the night's work: knives, styli, molecular bonders. While the Brother and Sister watched, occasionally pausing to use their unravellers on the previous iterations of the Cousins and themselves, the Cousins altered each ballot. They added additional votes or carefully bonded chads back into place, making it look like no vote had ever been placed. They altered an entire county's worth of votes to make it seem like a community of Holocaust survivors voted for a Nazi sympathiser.

Once finished, the group performed a service to the Grandfather.

Now

It was a simple announcement.

'It has been determined that Governor George W. Bush has won and will be assigned all 25 of Florida's electors.'

Then

Cousin Neville's hand slips and cuts the tip of his left index finger. The blood spills across a stack of altered ballots, necessitating additional clean-up work. The incident distracts the Brother and Sister enough that their earlier iterations get the upper hand and kill the recent versions. The earlier versions tell the Cousins to get on with their work and take their places by the door.

Now

'...Vice-President Al Gore has won...'

Then

Newer incarnations of the Brother and Sister arrive and kill both sets of earlier iterations. They tell the Cousins to get on with their work and take their places by the door.

Now

'...Governor George W. Bush...'

Then

The energy requirements of their ship became so great that the continual sacrifice of previous versions of their selves is no longer sufficient to meet their demands. Mother Sheila waits outside of Sonny's Bar-B-Q on Apalachee Parkway, just a couple of miles from where the rest of the cell is working. In just an hour, she will capture Florida State University Head Football Coach Bobby Bowden, the highest paid state employee in Florida, as he exits and sacrifice him to the time alter.

For the first time.

Now

'...Gore...'

This is Tallahassee. It is December 2000. This is still happening. Get used to it.

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